Interesting Georgia Supreme Court ruling today that an online high school meets the definition of “attending school.”
This case deals with child support, but I thought the legal finding on the virtual schooling was worth sharing. A lower court had ruled that the online school did not satisfy the child support provision that the child be attending school to continue receiving support from his father, but the high court disagreed.
Here is a summary of the ruling provided by the Georgia Supreme Court:
The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a Chatham County court decision, finding that an 18-year-old’s participation in an on-line high school can satisfy the requirement that one must be “attending” school to continue to receive a parent’s child support.
“In light of the legislative and executive branches’ endorsement and regulation of on-line learning opportunities for Georgia students, we conclude that once a child enrolls in approved on-line courses in an effort to graduate from secondary school, his on-line attendance constitutes ‘attending school’ for purposes of extending child support beyond the child’s attainment of the age of majority,” Justice Robert Benham writes in today’s unanimous opinion.
The case stems from the 2007 divorce of Angel and Clifford Draughn, whose son was due to graduate from a private school in Savannah, in June 2009. Under the final divorce decree, the father was to pay the mother $1,200 a month in child support until their son reached the age of 18, “provided that if [boy] becomes 18 years old while enrolled in and attending secondary school on a full-time basis, then the child support shall continue for [him] until he has graduated from secondary school or reaches 20 years of age, whichever comes first.” According to briefs filed in the case, due to a medical condition, in February 2009 the boy enrolled as a full-time student in the Kaplan School, an on-line secondary school approved by the private school where he had attended. After he failed to turn in satisfactory schoolwork by the end of April, however, the private school released him. The boy turned 18, the age of majority, on April 21 2009. In August, 2009, he resumed full-time status as a student at a public high school.
In October 2009, Clifford Draughn filed a motion asking the court to terminate his child support obligation because when his son turned 18, he was not enrolled in and attending a secondary school. In February 2010, the trial court concluded that the on-line courses for which the son was registered did not satisfy the criteria in the child support order that he “attend” school full time. Furthermore, the trial court said that even if the on-line course satisfied the “attend” criteria, he was not attending full-time, as demonstrated by the log in his Kaplan record. Ruling in favor of the father, the trial court terminated his child support obligation as of July 2009, a month before his son resumed high school at a Savannah public school. The mother then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Today’s opinion points out that in 2005, the Georgia legislature enacted Official Code of Georgia § 20-2-319.1, authorizing establishment of the “Georgia Virtual School” where students 21 and under “may enroll in state-funded courses via the Internet or in any other manner not involving on-site interaction with a teacher.” And under the state’s child support statute, a judge may order parents to pay child support for children who have reached the age of majority before completing their secondary education.
The purpose of that statute and the Draughns’ child support agreement is to have parents “continue to provide financial assistance to a child who has reached the age of majority to enable a child to complete his or her secondary school education…,” today’s opinion says. “In enacting the statute, the General Assembly recognized the importance of a child completing a secondary education and parental responsibility to assist a child in achieving that goal.
The high court has found that the trial court also erred by cutting off child support simply because the boy was not in school during the summer months. For most full-time students, the regular school year doesn’t include the summer.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog